Tom Harper has quality TV episodes and, one of my favourites of this year ‘Wild Rose’ safely tucked under his belt but does this film based on two brave balloonists soar or crash-land?
James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is a budding meteorologist who hopes to study humidity in the higher atmospheres of our planet but to do this he needs the assistance of adventurer Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), who can put together a balloon to tackle the skies but with storms and freezing conditions, this could be a record breaking study too far.
The opening of ‘The Aeronauts’ sets up the landscape nicely by rushing through 19th century London, following a typical city scamp a la ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘Oliver!’, eventually landing us with the majestic sight of the giant balloon, of which the pair and we will travel in. The pairing make for alright opposing thoughts, there’s never electric dialogue to lift the narrative but James with his instruments and numbers and Amelia; more equipped to deal with life-challenging outings, find a companionship which is warming enough to see us through.
Some of this loose biopic was filmed with IMAX cameras, with the intention that the scenes will appear gloriously on the biggest screen and there is no doubt that this movie, thanks to DoP George Steel contains beautiful vistas of our fair capital and later on there are gorgeous shots of what lays over our heads but all these stunning images and admittedly pretty period costumes cannot completely patch over the rips in the structure of the story.
Harper and frequent collaborator Jack Thorne have scripted interesting moments but the back and forth in time detracts from the growing tension in a similar way to that of ‘Adrift’. The obvious reasoning is to flesh out Amelia and James’ history but these scenes feel like tiresome sidesteps from the selling point of the movie. Even the moments rocketing through the clouds have potential to be fascinatingly on the edge but they always seem to come shy of the mark. What could have been a much more gripping biographical adventure just becomes something we’ve seen before, just in a hot-air balloon.
It’s a danger-fuelled outing that audiences have witnessed in the past and it feels like a airy hybrid of the aforementioned Shailene Woodley biopic and ‘Gravity’, what with tense set pieces lighting the way in their hopeful descent back to Earth, once scary heights have been reached. The comparison doesn’t stop there as composer Steven Price moves from space to sky to provide vivid wonder with his music once again.
Redmayne is as you can predict by now, he doesn’t muster anything different to the roles he usually plays but he snugly shows that James finds comfort in science whereas Jones is the towering talent. She lets us clearly see that Amelia finds her own home in the open skies, she harmonises a gutsy, showboating mischievous side with resourcefulness and piloting expertise, in a role that might omit the true figure of balloonist Henry Coxwell but with an uplifting performance and amalgamating real-life female pilots, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
‘The Aeronauts’ is a great film to look at but the story isn’t one to completely sustain interest. You’ll enjoy the spectacle and fine performances but like an unnecessary sandbag, you’ll drop it from memory before too long.